I am a huge fan of Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic trilogy, so when I saw that she had delved into the realm of YA Fiction, there was no way I was willing to miss out on Court of Fives. As with Elliott’s other books, the plot is riddled with twists and turns, and the end result is nothing like what I was expecting on page 1, or even 10 pages earlier, to be honest. I absolutely love the depth and complexity with which Court of Fives was written, and I was surprisingly pleased by the relationship portrayed in the book as well.
Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best contenders. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between two Fives competitors–one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy–causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’ family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
Despite my love for Kate Elliott’s other work, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Court of Fives. I’ve often found that when authors delve into YA Fiction for the first time, they produce something too fluffy and often to childish for the genre, struggling to find a balance between the maturity and logic driven motivation of an adult book plot and the emotionally charged, personally driven world of young adults books. Truly, it’s a vastly different world, yet young adults don’t want the story and prose “dumbed down” for them – they simply want a story that catches their interest. In my opinion, Elliot managed this with relative ease, creating a dynamic, complex plot that endeared itself to the young adult reader through an emotionally charged main character and fiery romance.
I loved the characters in this book, although I’ll be honest when I say that Kalliarkos was definitely my favourite, over Jessamy herself, who ended up being just a bit too gullible for how highly she viewed herself. At least Kalliarkos had the sense to recognize his short-comings! My only complaint is the lack of development for the characters who weren’t Kalliarkos and Jessamy – no one else really played a central role in this tale, which was somewhat
- Jessamy is the brave female protagonist of the story. Raised in a strict household, Jessamy trains and competes in the Fives as a way to rebel against her father and as a way to find her place in the world. She harbours a secret resentment for her family; her father, a Patron soldier, cannot marry her mother, a Commoner, yet has kept her and lives with her as one would live with a wife, despite the fact she has borne him four daughters and no living sons. This has brought much scorn and scrutiny upon the family, which is partially the reason for the rigidity of Jessamy’s life. After a shocking turn of events, Jessamy is taken from the family to train for the Fives in Kalliarkos’ family stable, where she earns respect as an Adversary known as Spider, all the while struggling to save her mother and sisters from a horrible fate.
- Kalliarkos is an unwilling Lord who plays in the Fives in order to avoid conscription in the army, a fate he has no interest in experiencing. He has latched onto the Fives as a drowning man latches onto a buoy, but there’s one problem – he simply isn’t good at them. After having Jes throw a trial, allowing him to win, he reaches out to discover who trains her, hoping to improve his odds at winning the Fives and avoiding the army. And so an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two, with Jes utilizing Kalliarkos need of assistance for her own needs. And yet, while their relationship spawned out of mutual need, and perhaps a bit of loneliness, it quickly morphs into a romance between the two.
I want to also discuss that romance, perhaps not so briefly. While I really enjoyed the romance between the two (Kalliarkos is an entertaining balance to Jessamy’s constant doom and gloom). What I didn’t enjoy about the romance was how it took away what little power Jessamy had, making her seemingly dependent upon Kalliarkos priviledge and power. As soon as she becomes attracted to Kalliarkos, she begins deferring to him, rebelling only slightly, typically ending up cowed and deferring to his superior plans. For what started out as a very strong female character, I found this metamorphosis to be extremely disappointing. Perhaps, had this been a relationship of equals, not that between a Lord and a “mule”, Jessamy would not have been so put down by Kalliarkos. Now, this isn’t to say that Kalliarkos intentionally oppressed Jes; instead, he took advantage of his influence and power, blind to how it impacted Jes. He always shows Jes respect, especially when it comes to the Fives. Overall, Kalliarkos isn’t the cause of Jes’ deference to him – if anything, her upbringing is.
So, when it comes down to it:
- The complexity of the story and depth of the plot. Truly, Elliott has a talent for weaving a complex, yet utterly believable, story, wrought with twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes.
- Kalliarkos. I really can’t blame him for Jessamy’s self-doubt and reliance upon those she views as more powerful than herself – that is a result of her upbringing and the nature of their society. Kalliarkos himself is humble, kind, somewhat goofy and self-confident. I hope his character will continue to be developed in future books, because I am interested to see how his future shapes him – for better or worse.
- The relationship between Kalliarkos and Jessamy. It was innocent, and fiery, and just the right amount of intimate for the stage of their relationship.
- In addition, the world building that Elliott crammed into this book was exemplary. Initially, I was confused by the social castes and the Fives, but Elliott quickly built a holistic world for the reader to engage with
I Didn’t Like:
- Jessamy’s constant doom and gloom mood, and her over confidence despite the fact she becomes an utter mess 9/10 when confronted with conflict and struggle. She was all bark and no bite, and essentially had no spine, which was disappointing, especially since she had initially been built up to be a strong, independent protagonist.
I loved this book. Yes, I didn’t particularly enjoy Jessamy, but Kalliarkos, the world building and the intricacy of the story more than made up for it. Elliott has done a wonderful job with Court of Fives, and I can’t wait to pick up the sequel, Poisoned Blade, and start reading (summary below)!
Poisoned Blade Summary (from Chapters): Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country”s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…. She must become a warrior.